To paraphrase Bruce Dickinson, one of Christopher Walken's greatest Saturday Night Live characters, "Guess what? I've got a fever -- and the only prescription is more Little Hurricane!"
He was, of course, originally referring to requiring more cowbell -- but that's only because he hadn't heard Gold Fever, the new album by San Diego's own retro blues/rock duo Little Hurricane.
The group has quietly (and maybe not so quietly) become somewhat of a superstar in the indie rock scene, playing impressive festivals (Lollapalooza, South By Southwest); touring with huge acts (the Specials, the John Butler Trio, Electric Six); heck, even showing up in a Taco Bell commercial of all places with their track "Hold Me Back" (mmm, Taco Bell).
The band, which consists of guitarist/vocalist Anthony "Tone" Catalano and drummer/vocalist Celeste "C.C." Spina, is set to capitalize on the ever-rising Little Hurricane storm front: It's been three years since they released the gritty, stomping slide blues of their debut album, Homewrecker, and fans have been longing for more ever since.
Stay Classy, the duo's free album of cover songs released last year via their Bandcamp page, sated the masses briefly with beautifully dirty renditions of classic songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," but their dark and muddy brand of heartbreak blues and charmingly disarming love songs is where the gold is.
Lucky for us, that's precisely what they'll be delivering come April 29, when Gold Fever drops. C.C. and Tone took a few moments out while on the road (which they're seemingly always on these days) to get down to gold, er, brass tacks with us -- and to talk about how life has changed since Homewrecker hit, releasing music on their own label and possibly bringing more musicians into the fold in the future.
Dustin Lothspeich: Your first album became an instant favorite for a lot of folks when it came out. Have you been playing the songs on Gold Fever on your recent tours or do you stick to what people are familiar with?
C.C.: Thank you! We actually spent nearly a year playing the tracks from Homewrecker before recording them. Gold Fever is a little different, because we recorded the songs before playing them out. We add a couple new songs per set on tour, but there are some that no one has ever heard live, and one ("Superblues") that actually pre-dates Homewrecker. We can't wait until we can fill our set with the new songs, though!
DL: The new album is out April 29 on your own Death Valley Records label: Why go through your own label and not an indie, or a major?
C.C.: We spent quite a bit of time taking meetings with labels and entertaining offers. Ultimately, what we noticed was the deals we were being presented with didn't have our best interests at heart. We want to own our masters and maintain creative control of our band. Every detail is important to us, and ultimately we want to be the ones calling the shots. Having our own label lets us do just that, and we teamed up with Ingrooves/Fontana for physical and digital distribution, which helps get the album to places we couldn't on our own.
DL: Why record your music yourselves? Is that just an extension of the DIY mindset?
C.C.: We would be foolish not to utilize our greatest asset, which is Tone's recording background. DIY isn't the path for everyone, and without the background of understanding the complexities of doing it, you can really butcher a great song with a bad recording. But in our case, his years spent recording top-level artists has paid off for our band.
Tone: During one of my first studio experiences as a young musician, I remember sitting behind the engineer and knowing that it didn't sound quite right -- not how I envisioned the song sounding when I wrote it. I realized right then, I needed to learn about all of these tools that shape what people experience when they listen to the song, so I did. I would compare it to a painter having someone paint their picture for them -- it's not going to look like what the artist saw in their head.
DL: If you had to compare the two albums, how has the band evolved since the debut?
C.C.: The sound has evolved, for sure. We spent the past few years traveling the country and playing on some stages that almost swallow us up! We wanted bigger songs that could stand up to the larger crowds at festivals and shows. We've gotten to support some amazing bands that opened our eyes to different tones and sounds we may not have considered before. Our tour with the Specials was particularly influential; they are so different from us, but we were completely inspired by their energy and sound. I think you can hear that influence in some of the tracks, particularly "Summer Air" and the album's bonus track, "Eye of the Storm." From our viewpoint, our live show is a lot more cohesive and tight, and hopefully the album reflects that as well.
DL: The new album is coming on the heels of an all-covers album, Stay Classy. Did working on recording versions of other artists’ music impact your own work on the new songs at all?
C.C.: They aren't really related. We wrote and recorded the majority of Gold Fever before the covers album but had been playing those covers live for the past few years. We switch them out of the set periodically and felt like it would be great to do something to honor those artists, as well as provide our fans with an appetizer to the second LP. It was a lot of fun to pick our favorite songs from the past few decades and make something that is cohesive and sounds like us.
DL: Would you say Gold Fever has a particular theme running throughout, or no?
C.C.: Like Homewrecker, a lot of the songs are about relationships. Most of them are about interactions we've had or heard about, and the emotions they evoke. We also tried to relate back to Homewrecker in moments throughout the album. For instance, the song "Sorry Son," off of Gold Fever, is a response to the track "Give Em Hell." We thought it would be cool to follow up with the second half of the story, which is what "Sorry Son" does. Then there are other tracks that stay away from that path entirely, like the new album's title track, which is much more of a kitschy song that isn't all that serious.
DL: What's your favorite song off the new album?
C.C.: My absolute favorite is "Upside of Down." It's very laid-back, and I love the underlying theme of making the most out the roller coaster that is life. It's also the first time we have really tried to do harmonies, which was a fun challenge.
DL: As a drum/guitar duo, it’s got to be challenging coming up with music that can be performed by only the two of you. How do you handle that? Do you ever think, "Hey, we should just get our buddy to play bass," or something?
C.C.: In our early years, we would have Andrew Armerding [guitarist in Hills Like Elephants, River City and Champ] play bass onstage with us, which made it a little easier to lock in and create a bigger sound. Once we hit the road, we kept it as compact as possible. It is nice to have, but we welcome the challenge of creating the most sound between two people that we can. It pushes us to do more, work harder on expanding our own talents. That being said, there will definitely be some auxiliary players in our future.
DL: I’m sure you’ve heard comparisons to all sorts of groups as you’ve been touring the world. Are there one or two that stick out?
C.C.: I am totally blown away when people compare us to Matt and Kim, as they are about as far from Little Hurricane you can get. For some people, they can't get beyond the visual of a female drummer and male frontman -- no matter what the genre.
DL: Being from San Diego, what are one or two of your most favorite places to play in town, and one or two SD bands you’d love to play with?
C.C.: Hands down, the best venue in all of San Diego is the Casbah. Aside from that, we love playing in North Park when we can. We formed on 30th Street, and our roots will always be in North Park, no matter how much it's changed since we left! Local bands we love are Transfer and the Silent Comedy, as we feel a real connection with them. A new up-and-coming band I'd love to see us on a bill with is Champ, a three-piece also out of North Park.
DL: Finish this sentence: “You should pick up Gold Fever because….”
C.C.: It has your favorite song on it!
Little Hurricane headline their official CD release show at the House of Blues on June 7, with Lincoln Durham. Tickets are $21.50 and available here. Pick up their new album, Gold Fever, everywhere April 29.